Top 5 Tips for Managing Your Mental Health During Lockdowns
Nobody could say that they expected their 2020 to unfold the way it has so far. Here are Spaceways; we fully appreciate that this is a massive upheaval for everyone all over the world.
The upheaval, the loss of jobs, restricted socialising rules and not seeing family members for extended periods, all of this can lead to you feeling a little lost, out of place, anxious or depressed.
Firstly, it is understandable, so it is ok to stop, acknowledge your emotions and start to process them as you get used to the "new normal." At a time like this, is it very easy to let everything get on top of you and forget about taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.
In this article, we aim to be a small reminder to take some time to look after yourself and your mental health. We have brought together 5 of the top tips for reducing stress, increasing happiness and finding the best in each day.
Top 5 tips for managing mental health during lockdowns and self-isolation.
1. First Point To Manage Mental Health During Lockdown: NUTRITION
We put nutrition first because if you are not feeding your body the nutrients it needs, it doesn't matter what you are doing, you will not be operating in your most efficient state. It would be too much to go into in-depth in this article, but the body needs a range of nutrients. The six core groups are protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, with the sixth being all-important water.
A quick crash course on protein
A Protein is a composite of "Amino Acids", which is actually what the body needs. Proteins are essentially just packets of amino acids. There are twenty-one amino acids required for a healthy body, but there are nine that are considered "essential". Essential because these particular amino acids have to be obtained from an outside source.
You may have heard the terms "Complete" and "Incomplete" protein.
The classification refers to the number of essential amino acids that the protein contains. Most animal proteins are considered "complete", and this is because the animal has done the work of assimilating the individual amino acids from their food and creating the protein that you then incorporate into your body.
Plant proteins, with some exceptions of Soy, Quinoa and Buckwheat, are considered "incomplete" as they do not contain all of the nine essential amino acids.
A healthy diet is composed of a mix and match of different foods, so the fact that plant-based proteins are incomplete is not a problem as you can find the amino acids a particular plant lacks, in another plant.
The Takeaway: Proteins are a composite of amino acids. Ensure you are getting all the amino acids your body needs in the most efficient way possible.
A quick crash course on Carbohydrates
Carbs are the bodies preferred source of energy. In the absence of carbohydrates, your body will start to break down fat and proteins into the energy it can consume for its everyday functioning.
You may have heard of the expressions "simple" carbs and "complex" carbs.
Complex carbs have longer chains of sugar molecules that take longer for the body to break down, which means it is a more sustainable source of energy for the body. Complex carbs are found in foods like brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, wheat and more.
Simple carbs have smaller sugar molecule chains and so are used as energy much quicker, meaning you will need more of it to sustain the energy needs of the body. Simple carbs are found in foods like sugar and syrups.
The Takeaway: It is better to have complex carbs in your diet over simple carbs. Complex carbs are the best energy source for your body, and they will last longer than simple carbs.
A quick crash course on Fats
In their natural states, fats come in 3 types: polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated. From here, we have modified the fats mentioned above to fit our needs better. You may have heard of "Trans Fats", "Hydrogenated Oils" and other such terms.
Want a tip? Just stay away from them. These modified fats are found a lot in processed and junk foods.
It would be best if you predominantly consume polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in your diet. Coconut oil is the exception, which is a very healthy saturated fat.
Saturated Fats are those found mainly in animal fats. Whilst these have been seen to be the problem fats, your body does use saturated fat.
Here is the kicker though, your body produces all of the saturated fat that it needs! So, this means you do not need to eat a lot of saturated fat; it just means you need to look after your liver!
You also have HDL and LDL cholesterol, another type of fat in the body.
Cholesterol is essential for the creation of cell membranes. It also has a part to play in signal transduction, intracellular transport, nerve conduction, signalling pathways and acts as a precursor for the synthesis of Vitamin D, steroid hormones and sex hormones. Yes, it is crucial!
HDL vs LDL
Your liver creates all the cholesterol your body needs in the form of LDL (Low-Density Lipoproteins) and HDL (High-Density Lipoproteins). LDL is responsible for supplying cholesterol to all of the peripheral tissues in the body. In contrast, HDL does the opposite and brings excess cholesterol from the body back to the liver.
Due to these actions, and people seeing cholesterol build up in their bodies, LDL is referred to as the "bad" cholesterol, whilst HDL is considered as "good" as it essentially clears that excess.
What is less known, though, is that the presence of LDL cholesterol can be triggered as a response to inflammation or an infection in the body.
"During chronic inflammatory diseases, inflammation and infections can also induce a variety of alterations in lipid metabolism, including decreases in serum HDL cholesterol, increases in triglycerides, lipoprotein(a), and LDL levels." (NCBI)
So the presence of higher LDL cholesterol levels over HDL cholesterol levels could point to another issue happening within the system or, point to an unhealthy diet.
The Takeaway: Look after your liver. Reduce the amount of alcohol, added sugar, excess salt, red meat, white bread, white pasta and fried foods. Also, external pressures like pharmaceutical drugs and excessive weight can damage the liver too. Doing all of this will help the liver do its job correctly and manage the amounts of LDL and HDL throughout the body.
Vitamins and Minerals
The body needs a wide range of vitamins and minerals from the earth to function correctly. Minerals are classified as "macro" and "trace" minerals. Macrominerals would be things like calcium, magnesium, potassium and chloride. Trace minerals would be things like copper, iodine, zinc and selenium.
What is the difference?
The main difference between macro and trace minerals are the quantities required by the body. By comparison, we need a lot more of the macro minerals daily than the trace minerals.
The Takeaway: They are all critical for many, many different reasons. Ensure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs if you want to give your mind the best chance of functioning efficiently, which will help you manage your mental health.
I think you are aware of this one. Clean drinking water is vital for our body as we are comprised of at least 70% water! Ensure you are drinking adequate amounts of clean drinking water. As a tip, it is better to sip water throughout the day to stay hydrated rather than drinking lots at once as doing the later will result in reduced absorption and more water being expelled from the body.
2. Second Point To Manage Mental Health During Lockdowns: MINDFULNESS
What is mindfulness, and why should you care?
We all think. We all have a constant stream of thoughts running through our head, right? In that case, you should be aware of mindfulness.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and meditation. Initially, the science of meditation was disseminated as a means to help the practitioner transcend the mind and move into a different level of being all together, not just to feel better.
Today, though, a small part of this, known as "mindfulness" has been widely accepted as a way to manage your mental health. Not only is it widely accepted, but it also has a lot of science backing it too.
Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression
In 2010, in a study named "The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review" Hoffman et al. conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies that had explored the use of mindfulness for stress reduction and cognitive therapies. The authors concluded that:
"These results suggest that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations." The full study can be seen here.
Mindfulness to Increase Working Memory Capacity
In another 2010 study by Jha et al named "Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience", the researchers experimented with military and non-military personnel.
They took two groups of military personnel during "high-stress predeployment interval" and gave the mindfulness techniques to just one of the groups. A control group of civilians who did not receive the methods participated as well.
The group that received the techniques took part in an eight-week mindfulness course.
The study found that the non-meditating military group has a decreased working memory capacity and the civilian control group saw no statistically significant change in working memory capacity.
Within the mindfulness group, however, working memory capacity increased. The practice was also directly related to the self-reported positive affect.
Focus and Cognitive Flexibility
A 2009 study named "Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility" conducted by Moore and Malinowski looked to investigate any potential links between meditation, self-reported mindfulness and cognitive flexibility.
Essentially, they tested to see the participants ability to suppress distracting information and focus their attention.
They took a group of experienced meditators and a control group that had no meditation experience.
The study found that the meditating group had significantly better performance on all measures in the experiment and had higher self-reported mindfulness. These increased performances correlated directly with cognitive flexibility and attention functioning.
The Takeaway: Mindfulness has proven benefits to help manage your mood, which is perfect when you are self-isolating. As you have a little more time on your hands, this may be the ideal opportunity to start?
If you are new to this, we recommend trying a "body scan" mindfulness meditation first. It is the perfect beginner practice to calm the mind and focus on different areas of your body whilst deep breathing. It works wonders for an agitated mind.
There are many guided meditations that you can do online, but here is a link to the body scan mentioned above:
3. Third Point To Manage Mental Health During Lockdowns: LEARNING
Let's talk about dopamine!
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is known as the "motivation" chemical as it is responsible for our drive, ambition and striving in life.
In ancient times when humans were first developing, it played an essential role in ensuring the race did not die of starvation but also, along with other "Catecholamine" neurotransmitters assured we had the drive to fight or flight in tricky situations.
"Catecholamine" neurotransmitters are created in the adrenal glands.
Dopamine, in regards to driving us to a goal
Imagine you are an ancient human, food is running out, and you remember there is a large bush that has fruits with the potential to feed the tribe for the next coming months, but its a few miles away. Without dopamine, you are unlikely to have the motivation to travel the distance to get the food.
Food is the goal; the motivation is to keep your tribe alive. It is at this point that dopamine kicks in to ensure you make the journey.
It does this by making you feel good about that goal, so you have the energy to see it through.
Interestingly enough, you get a more significant release of dopamine in the pursuit of the goal when compared to achieving it.
Learning is a perfect trigger for dopamine!
Now that you are locked down at home, why not create a new learning goal? Maybe you can develop your knowledge further in your area of work? Perhaps you can retrain in a new area? Perhaps you can learn something you find exciting that will help you create an additional income stream?
This way of thinking will help you during your self-isolation and lockdowns.
The Takeaway: Get your dopamine flowing! Set a new learning goal for your period at home that excites you, decide the best way to attack the goal and get started!
4. Staying Active
Yes, you are in lockdown and so shouldn't be leaving home, but that does not mean you cannot find active things to do within your home.
Some tops ideas include:
Why not start easy with chair exercises? If you are at a computer for long hours or sit in front of the tv a lot or have reduced mobility due to a condition, these simple exercises can still help keep your body active.
You can do exercises like chest stretches, hip marching, body twists, ankle stretches, arm raises, neck rotations and more! You can see a few below.
If you are a wheelchair user, there is an excellent video from the NHS of exercises you can do to stay active whilst at home:
You may be well aware of this form of exercise, so we will not list a load of specific exercises you can do, but we will say that this can be one of the best ways to get into shape and not just stay active.
With the rise of Callisthenics and other weight-based training systems, many people are reaping the health benefits of bodyweight exercises.
For those looking to keep their fitness up, we recommend Callisthenics.
For those who may not be into fitness already, we recommend having a read of this article that lists 53 at-home bodyweight exercises that you can do to stay active.
As we mentioned in regards to mindfulness, Yoga has its origins in ancient India where the sages and seers originally propounded it as a system that would allow the practitioner to understand and transcend the physical body and mind into another level of experience altogether.
Today, in the west, parts of the original teachings of Yoga are used mainly for fitness with a wide range of benefits. It may not be the complete system, but it works!
There are many beginner classes that you can take online. As a bonus, Yoga helps with your mental clarity and resilience too.
Of course, there are several other things you can do to stay active whilst self-isolated at home, including:
- Sitting Less
- Other Online Exercise Programs
- Keeping Your Home Organised
The Takeaway: Exercise has proven scientific benefits to help you manage your mental health.
There are several studies out about this now but in a literary review examining the effects of exercise on mental health and well-being by Callaghan in 2004 named "Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care?", he summarises:
- "There is evidence that exercise is beneficial for mental health; it reduces anxiety, depression, and negative mood, and improves self-esteem and cognitive functioning."
- "Exercise is also associated with improvements in the quality of life of those living with schizophrenia."
- "Exercise is seldom recognised by mainstream mental health services as an effective intervention in the care and treatment of mental health problems."
He finally comments that:
"There is evidence to suggest that exercise may be a neglected intervention in mental health care."
5. Helping Others
Last but in no ways least, helping others and giving. The science behind this one is truly amazing.
Why not see what you can do from your home for another person? Perhaps reaching out to those less fortunate? Maybe you have a skill you can teach to another for free? (You'll see why I said for free in a minute).
Let's briefly talk about those beautiful "happiness" chemicals.
The Science of Giving
There are three core chemicals within the system that are responsibly for all the feelings of well being and happiness within the body. They are triggered in several ways, either individually or all together. If we are trying to enhance our mood and feel better whilst in lockdown or self-isolation, it would be worth knowing what actions release all three of these chemicals, right?
Interestingly enough, giving and helping others releases all three at the same time!
When these three chemicals release in tandem, several effects can be observed, such as:
- Stress hormones being suppressed
- The immune function being boosted
- Self-healing being promoted
- The feeling of bonding with others is enhanced
Naturally, you will just feel better whilst they are flowing through your veins.
The Takeaway: Give, give, give! The trouble most people face is giving without expecting anything in return. When you can give from this place and understanding, these chemicals will flow throughout your system unabridged.
Do not worry about putting yourself out there and not getting the response you expect. Give unconditionally, with no expectations, and just be aware of how it makes you feel.
So, those are our top 5 tips for managing your mental health during lockdown or self-isolation.
Understand what the body needs in regards to nutrition and ensure you supply it as this is vital to sound and sustained mental health.
Practice mindfulness and meditation. The science backing this is growing every day with relation to how the practice can help you manage your mental and emotional health in general. Be sure to look into it!
Having dopamine flowing through your system will help you feel excited and motivated to do more. Set yourself a learning goal during lockdown, start to work on it and get the dopamine flowing
Staying active has proven scientific benefits for managing your mental health. Ensure you are doing something to stay active every day whilst in lockdown.
We hope you found this information useful and genuinely hope it helps those of you who have had to self-isolate during this time.
Thanks for reading
The Spaceways Team